(Note: If you don’t know, “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” is a collection of footage shot on the set of a tour that Michael was preparing for just before his death.)
In my life long quest to always be a contrarian, there have been a few times when I just couldn’t make myself stay away from something. “Napoleon Dynamite” is a great example. “Dynamite” got so popular so fast that I absolutely refused to see it and called everyone who did see it a sheep. But curiosity got the better of me and I eventually rented it, loved it, and secretly hate myself every time I watch and enjoy the Jamiroquai “Canned Heat” scene. But what the heck am I going to do? You can’t fight a power like “Napoleon.” So I sacrifice my integrity and reference Uncle Rico whenever the opportunity presents itself.
To be honest, my “This Has Become So Popular That I May Have to Abandon It” meter is going crazy with this Michael Jackson business. I just haven’t been able to follow through. It’s like Spiderman feeling his Spidey-sense going street rat crazy, knowing that The Green Goblin is standing right behind him with an arm full of pumpkin bombs, and doing nothing to stop him. (Nerds unite!) I know, I know, Michael was always insanely popular. But not Death Popular. Death Popular is a whole different kind of thing. Death Popular allows people to do things like sell Rest In Peace t-shirts at Walmart, print the person’s likeness on a backpack, and put out movies about said dead person in hasty fashion. Usually Death Popular sends me running away from the person’s legacy like Will Ferrell streaking through the quad. It took me 10 years to get back on board with Nirvana after Kurt Cobain’s death and I stinking LOVED Nirvana.
Suffice it to say, it was a weird place I found myself in as the credits rolled for “Michael Jackson’s This Is It.” I kind of hated myself for following along with approximately 50 million people who watched this movie over the last week. But there I sat, having been riveted by what the last two hours brought to the screen.
“This Is It” is an incredible look into the mind of a legend that I don’t think anyone really understood. Here’s this guy who absolutely captivated the freaking world for 40 years but he was such a weirdo that most of us aren’t sure how to handle his legacy. On the one hand he was possibly if not probably the greatest entertainer the world has ever seen. His genius is undeniable even to a wannabe writer who knows nothing about dance. On the other hand, you get the feeling that you are watching a man who is only a man in the physical sense. His actions here are often that of a 7 year old child. He says things that are educated in a sense but come across as so infantile that I seriously have to remind myself that it was Michael Jackson speaking, not a kid saying a prayer during an Upward flag football practice. At one point during rehearsals for “Beat It” he literally lays stomach-down on the ground and pounds his fists and stomps his feet like a kid throwing a temper tantrum.
The choreography and the artistry displayed here are, obviously, amazing. The precision with which the man worked is something special and even the band and members of the crew comment on how rare it is for an artist of Jackson’s caliber to really care about the tiny details of a tour. Each segment of the film covers a different Jackson song and each one is engrossing. The arrangement on “The Way You Make Me Feel” (possibly my favorite Jackson cut) is incredible. There is a “Bad/They Don’t Really Care About Us” medley that, when combined with the green screen effects that were planned, delivers on an extremely high level. You get the feeling that this tour was going to bring things to the stage that we’ve never seen before.
At the same time, this film shows Jackson in a much more vulnerable state than normal. He knew the cameras were rolling but this wasn’t intended to be a public release until the Death Popularity kicked in. Because of this, you see some of the weirder aspects of the man. He looks so incredibly frail and sickly and yet it doesn’t seem to affect what he puts into the performance. A couple of the song segments and the videos that were being worked into them were just weird and you knew it had to be Michael’s brainchild. The man is wearing a Popeye t-shirt for about a third of the shots. Seeing as I still wear a “Goonies” shirt every once in a while, maybe I shouldn’t find this weird...But no, it’s weird for a megajillionaire to be wearing a Popeye shirt. And yet he was still brilliant to the very end.
“This Is It” is a strange film to watch. Lindsey said she had to fight back tears for the first 20 minutes and I totally get that. There are three dozen people shown in these tapes, all of whom put months of their time into making this the greatest show the world has ever seen, but they, like the rest of Michael’s fans, will never see it come to fruition. I’m personally bummed that another one of my top five “I Would Pay Just About Anything to See Them in Concert” performers (along with Zeppelin, The Eagles, Nirvana, and (gulp) Garth Brooks) will never happen. Yet it is so cool to see the King of Pop getting ready to do what he did best, which was completely fascinate his fans. As the opening credits told me, “This Is It” is much less a tribute to the man and more a tribute to his fans. And a solid tribute it is. A-.
I bet you I can throw a football over them mountains,